17 I pray that the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the glorious Father, will give you spiritual wisdom and revelation in your growing knowledge of him, 18 – since the eyes of your heart have been enlightened – so that you can know what is the hope of his calling, what is the wealth of his glorious inheritance in the saints, 19 and what is the incomparable greatness of his power toward us who believe, as displayed in the exercise of his immense strength. 20 This power he exercised in Christ when he raised him from the dead and seated him at his right hand in the heavenly realms. (NET)
By God’s power we have been forgiven of our sins and regenerated. By God’s power we’ve been rescued from the penalty and power of sin. By God’s power we’ve died to sin and have been raised to new life in Christ. By God’s power we are kept secure in our salvation according to a faith that endures.
By God’s power we’ve been given a new nature, a new heart — a spiritual capacity to know and walk with God, according to the will of God. Paul refers to spiritual enlightenment (vss. 17-18), in the form of prayer for the Ephesian Christians. As born-again believers – who are indwelt by the Holy Spirit – we’ve been enlightened by the Holy Spirit to know the truth regarding Christ. This involves the Christian life and the doctrines of the Christian faith.
Since our eyes have been opened to the truth, we’re able to learn and grow in our understanding of God, the Bible and the Christian life. If someone is regularly in God’s Word, yet not growing in understanding, there’s something wrong. It indicates a lack of salvation. That’s especially evident if a person is actually losing ground as time goes on. If someone’s beliefs are actually becoming more confused and moving further away from the common understanding that Christians hold to, then that reveals an absence of spiritual enlightenment — an absence of the new nature. Truth and light are progressive, not regressive.
As we “grow in the knowledge of God,” we’ll grow in “spiritual wisdom and revelation.” I like what the Life Application Bible Commentary says about this (bold mine):
The Holy Spirit gives “wisdom” (see also 1:8)—the ability to see life from God’s perspective, to have discernment. He also gives “revelation,” which refers to enlightened understanding, insight into God himself and the mysteries of divine truth.
I don’t think it can be described better than that. Those who have truly been “enlightened” via regeneration, will grow in their “ability to see life from God’s perspective.” They will grow in “insight into God himself and the mysteries of divine truth.” They will move forward, not backward. True enlightenment does not lead one to reverse direction in their understanding of the truth. It will always lead one along a forward path of understanding and discernment. Truth leads to further truth, and light leads to further light. Like begets like.
Spiritual enlightenment always leads to an enlightened life — a changed life that continues to grow in conformity to the life that God has ordained for us as followers of Christ:
(Colossians 1:9-10) 9 For this reason we also, from the day we heard about you, have not ceased praying for you and asking God to fill you with the knowledge of his will in all spiritual wisdom and understanding, 10 so that you may live worthily of the Lord and please him in all respects – bearing fruit in every good deed, growing in the knowledge of God, (NET)
True understanding of the truth, leads to a true understanding of the type of life that God has called us to. If Christians aren’t in God’s Word regularly, they’re not going to grow spiritually — that’s one thing. However, if someone is in God’s Word regularly, and their belief system becomes more and more confused and out of harmony with true Christianity, then that is reason for great concern. Again, it reveals an absence of spiritual enlightenment that comes via the new birth. Spiritual enlightenment changes our lives and brings us into conformity to “God’s will.”